Selecting Agency Management Software


Stay with me here. Whether you’re in an agency or an in-house creative department, you need to manage your work efficiently, easily and with a system that people will actually use.

And just a pause for thought: will you require staff to use the new system / process / workflow? Here’s a piece of advice – if there are no requirements or expectation that the tools will be used, compliance will fail (we're talking time and expense). So make requirements clear – and make sure owners, partners and managers are completely on board and have your back.

Back to business…

You’ve completed your evaluation, compiled and narrowed the list of absolutes, wants, wishes and conversely – everything everyone hates. Never ignore what people despise. It also helps to get an understanding of why they hate whatever it is.

In an agency, there are tools for all roles – from acquiring a client to filing away the work once completed, to buying media and billing for everything.

In an in-house department, there should be a way to take-in work, manage the creative process and perhaps charge-back all or a portion of what you do. And maybe you have a department budget that you must justify every year. A good system has the capabilities built-in to provide those details to the powers-that-be (corporate finance).

And by the way, for both agencies and in-house: good tools will show you where you’re making money and what areas are bleeding cash. This comes in handy when you have a client, who once again, wants a deal, or if you’re overworked and are trying to make a case for more staffing.

The bottom line: in either instance, you should have a system in place to manage and track everything – with tools that return information that is useful to managing your daily operation.

Information like, how busy is everyone? Or, where is that project that’s due . . . now? I need a ballpark on how much / how long it takes to do a website? I love ballparks, don’t you?

Start with accounting. If you’re an agency, it’s the foundation for how everything is divvied up. Clients, payroll, cost of doing business – its very structure can influence everything from job number configuration to how you name a project, to how you save and store your client files. Not to mention reports you need and a configurable way to invoice your clients.

If you have an accounting system you love and you need something to manage the work, consider a solution that will “talk” to your accounting program. At the very least an API or some sort of export/import mechanism that isn’t horribly convoluted. Think long term. Will this grow with the agency?

For in-house departments that don’t do any charge-back, you’re probably looking for a project management/collaborative solution.

At the very least, there should be an underlying structure to give you a way to open a job with a unique identifier (I prefer solutions that automatically generate a job number – no risk of duplication); share information; collaborate/communicate within a project; create an estimate; and create a project schedule that can be updated easily.

Remember – I recommend integrated solutions – all data entered and captured in one program.

And don’t forget IT requirements: where is the solution is served (cloud-based or on premise); security requirements (no servers in a bathroom closet); and if there are special hardware and network requirements (remote login, access from a phone or a pad).

Simple, right?

All the solutions I have reviewed have these capabilities. Most are very strong in every respect, but user experience can differ greatly. Ultimately what do you need? What are those really pesky issues that are driving everyone crazy?

These are the solutions I reviewed (all have links to their respective websites):

Fully Integrated

·        Advantage – yes, full disclosure, I worked there. They have a completely new interface.

·        AccountAbility – relatively new to the US market, clean and simple.

·        eSilentPartner – been around a long time and have some really cool PM tools.

·        Workamajig – they did a rewrite and eliminated flash.

Project Management

·        Workgroups DaVinci – I’ve done a preliminary demo and digging deeper next week.

·        Workfront – I followed them since they were AtTask. New interface and a lot of outreach.

Timesheet application

Normally, I would only recommend an integrated solution, but this one is really cool. Yeah, a cool timesheet application. Who would have thought such a thing?

·        OpenHour TimeTracker – These folks just wrote an integration with Advantage, but can run as a standalone – AND… they’re looking at working with other solutions. What I love about this is that it will track everything you touch on your computer – related to projects – and capture it in a timesheet. Writing a Word doc, creating a spreadsheet, doing research on the Web for a client (that’s the proper use of your time) – all can be captured and assigned to a job.

Are you using a solution that is awesome? Let me know. I'd love to do a review.

Coming soon... What to expect from a software demo. Hint: reward those who attend and remain engaged.